Between August 3 and 5, 1934, Muslim mobs went on a rampage in the Algerian city of Constantine, attacking Jews and Jewish property. In the attack, 25 Jewish men, women, and children were killed, most from having their throats cut or their skulls crushed, and 26 more were injured, according to official statistics. More than 200 Jewish-owned stores were ransacked. The total property damage to homes, businesses, and synagogues was estimated at over 150 million Poincare francs. Some 3,000 people, one-quarter of Constantine’s Jewish population, were in need of welfare assistance in the aftermath of the pogrom. During the rampage, anti-Jewish incidents were recorded in the countryside of the Department of Constantine, extending over a 100-kilometer radius. Jews were murdered in Hamma and Mila, and in Ain Beida, Jewish homes and businesses were looted. In all, 314 Jews left Ain Beida for good, seeking the relative security of larger communities. During much of the rioting, the French police and security forces stood by and did little or nothing to stop the rioters.
Differing analyses of the causes of the Constantine pogrom were offered by the French colonial administration, by Jews, by Algerian Muslims, and by later historians. All agree that the spark igniting the violence was an argument between a Jewish Zouave (infantryman), Eliahou Khalifa, and worshipers in a mosque adjacent to his home. Eyewitness accounts differed over the precise circumstances. The antisemitic French colonial authorities and press reported only the Muslim version that Khalifa was drunk, urinated on the Arabs, and insulted Islam. A report by the Jewish authorities claimed that he was not inebriated, that he had asked the Muslims to close some windows opening onto their ablution hall for the sake of modesty, and that in the ensuing argument, they had cursed him and his faith and that he in turn cursed them and their religion. (“God curse your religion” is a common imprecation in North Africa freely and frequently used by Muslims and Jews, even between members of the same faith.) Jewish public opinion at the time blamed the incident on a conspiracy between European antisemites in the Algerian colonial bureaucracy and on pan-Arab propaganda. In the official government account at the time, the rioting was described as a completely spontaneous event. The antisemitic pieds noirs (colonists) and some Muslims blamed the outbreak on the enmity of the native underclass caused by the arrogance of nouveau riche Jews, who supposedly flaunted their superiority as French citizens under the Cremieux Decree of 1870, and by the alleged exploitation of Jewish moneylenders.
French historian Charles-Robert Ageron has argued that though the violence was spontaneous, it resulted from the grave social and economic conditions at the time. Andre Chouraqui and Michel Ansky believed that the native mob, consisting mainly of poor, displaced migrants from the countryside, had been manipulated with the collusion of antisemitic colonists and self-serving Arab notables. However, in the most detailed and best-documented study of the pogrom, Israeli historian Robert Attal discounted the importance of the dire socioeconomic conditions and extreme antisemitic agitation. These factors may have provided the background to the event, but the scope and intensity of the violence, Attal suggested, may well have been the result of a cynical decision made in the highest ruling echelons of the country. There, it was decided to make the most of the fortuitous rioting (by doing almost nothing to restrain it) in order to discredit the increasingly vocal Muslim leadership and the continually truculent colonists who opposed any reform of the colonial administration. The Jews of Constantine and the surrounding area were the victims of this scheming.
—Norman A. Stillman
See also Algeria; Drumont, Edouard; Farhud;
France; Pogroms; Regis, Max
Attal, Robert. Les emeute de Constantine, 5 Aout 1934 (Paris: Romillat, 2002).
Stillman, Norman A. The Jews of Arab Lands in Modern Times (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 199f).